The unedited full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia
- Phrase search: "names of god"
- Exclude terms: "names of god" -zerah
- Volume/Page: v9 p419
- Diacritics optional: Ḥanukkah or hanukkah
- Search by Author: altruism author:Hirsch
search tips & recommendations


Writing Material.

The first materials used for writing were such substances as stone, wood, and metal, upon which the characters were engraved with a stylus. At a very early time, however, animal substances were employed, and letters were written upon them with various liquid preparations. The usual word for a written document, "sefer," which occurs 182 times in different forms in the Bible, and is to be supplied in many places, as, for instance, with "Torah," designates the skin of an animal, the writing material anciently employed by the Orientals, and not papyrus. The usual word for writing, "katab," the fundamental meaning of which is "to place signs in succession," is found in the Bible 220 times (Blau, "Studien zum Althebräischen Buchwesen," pp. 9 et seq.). For private writing in the first centuries of the common era various materials were used, including clay tablets for bills. Books might be written only on skins of animals, of which three kinds were prepared—"gewil," "ḳelaf," and "doksosṭos." Gewil is the plain hide with the hair scraped off (i.e., leather); ḳelaf is parchment, made by paring away the skin, and which received the writing upon the flesh side (i.e., a membrane); doksosṭos is another form of parchment (ib. pp. 22 et seq.).


Copies of the Bible were, as a rule, made from whole skins, as at the present day, which were prepared from clean animals. To this the copyist ("sofer") himself generally attended. A gaon says, "We have never seen a Torah scroll which was written on parchment." There is a possibility, however, that in ancient times there were Biblical books written on papyrus; in regard to non-Biblical writings this supposition is even probable. The skin used for writing was ruled, and there were special regulations for margins and for the number of lines. Only black, effaceable ink, which was renewed when necessary, might be used for Biblical works. Metallic ink was known, but was forbidden. The Letter of Aristeas (§§ 176-179), however, relates that the copy of the Bible sent by the high priest to the Egyptian king Ptolemy was written in gold, and the Talmud also speaks of gold-writing, which may have been a Jewish invention (Blau, l.c. pp. 13, 150 et seq.; see Index).

Scroll and Codex.

Both the Jewish and the non-Jewish world in antiquity had books in the form of scrolls (Isa. xxxiv. 4; Job xxxi. 35-36; Jer. xxxvi.; Ezek. ii. 8-9; Ps. xl. 8; Zech. v. 1). In post-Biblical times the employment of such scrolls may be traced for a thousand years, and in copies of the Pentateuch for the synagogue this usage has survived until the present time. Both the Letter of Aristeas (l.c.) and I Macc. iii. 48 speak of scrolls. On the arch of Titus a man is depicted carrying on his back a long roll, undoubtedly a representation of the Torah scroll of the Temple of Jerusalem, which was taken to Rome (see Josephus, "B. J." vii. 5, § 5). The Talmud and Midrash know books only in this form (Blau, l.c. pp. 40-43), and the Christian documents of the first three centuries testify also to the use of rolls (Schulze, in "Greifswalder Studien Hermann Cremer Dargebracht," pp. 148-158). When and where the codex form first appeared among the Jews is as yet unknown. It is not impossible that the word "diftera," in Soferim iii. 6, designates a codex. The oldest complete and dated manuscript of the Bible, the codex of the Prophets at St. Petersburg, was written in 916. In ancient times school children had tablets for their first lessons in reading and writing, while wax tablets (πίναξ) were in general use among citizens, so that the prototype of the book was familiar from a very early period. There is, therefore, no need to assume foreign influence, whether Greco-Roman or Oriental and Christian, to explain the development of the scroll into the codex. The transition probably began in the seventh century and proceeded gradually, since no distinct mention of a codex has yet been discovered in the Talmud and Midrash.

Size, Compass, and Distribution.

The books of antiquity were always of small size (II Kings xxii. 8-10; II Chron. xxxiv. 15 et seq.; Neh. viii. 1 et seq.; see references from the Talmud, Midrash, and classic literature in Blau, l.c. pp. 72 et seq.), and people sat cross-legged when reading them.The largest scroll, the official copy of the Torah, which was used in the Second Temple had at most a height of six and a diameter of two handbreadths (ib. pp. 76 et seq.). The smallness of the books was compensated by the minuteness of the characters (ib. p. 79 et seq.). The contents of a manuscript might be very small, as, for example, one of the Book of Obadiah, or the original roll of fasts (c. 100 C.E.), while the normal size probably never exceeded that of the collection of the Twelve Prophets. At the time of the first selection of the canon (c. 4th cent. B.C.) large scrolls could not have been popular, as is shown by the division of the Torah into five parts, by the division of the Book of the History of the Kings into the books of Samuel and Kings, by the separation of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah from the Chronicles, and by other instances. About the year 100 C.E., however, there were certainly collective scrolls which contained the three sections of the Bible in one roll each, while there were even some which included all the books of the Scriptures in one large roll. Such a one, probably, was the Hexapla of Origen. There was, moreover, no lack of copies of single portions, which contained a section of a book, such as the Roll of Jealousy (= Num. v. 11-23, etc.; Blau, l.c. pp. 46-70).


The preparation of books has had an eventful history. At the time of the chroniclers (c. 3d cent. B.C.) Bible copies were rare; they had been almost entirely destroyed by the Syrians before the Maccabean revolt. Afterward, however, their number increased steadily, since it was made incumbent on every one to write a copy of the Torah for himself, and each congregation owned at least one. In the Talmudic period there was an enormous number of copies, especially as it was customary to wear portions of the Bible (chiefly Torah rolls) around the arm as amulets. Manuscripts of the Bible were found also in heathen families, and pagans even liked to trade in these books, which they were able to write themselves. Christians converted from Judaism or paganism owned many Hebrew writings (ib. pp. 84-97). In consequence of the ever-increasing demand a kind of book-trade developed as early as the first century. In general, however, people ordered their manuscripts direct from the copyist, according to ancient custom. The Apocrypha, the original of which has been lost, and other non-Biblical Hebrew books, were not in special demand and did not circulate in large numbers.

Oldest Codices.

The high value placed upon the Scriptures is evidenced by the great care taken for their preservation. The scrolls were wound on a stick, the Torah on two sticks. Coverings of various kinds served to protect them, and cases of various forms were used for keeping them. The rolls were firmly tied with a cord, and sometimes they were sealed to prevent any one from reading them without permission (ib. pp. 173-188 et seq.). When worn out the manuscripts of the Bible were protected against profanation by being placed in the coffins of dead scribes. In consequence of this custom not a single Biblical manuscript has been preserved from ancient times, nor is there any hope that one will ever come to light. Nevertheless, a few archetypes which existed in antiquity are mentioned. In the first rank among these stands the copy of the Torah of the Second Temple, already noted (I Macc., Introduction; II Macc. ii. 14; Josephus, "Ant." v. 1, § 17; Blau, l.c. pp. 99 et seq.). "The Book of the Court" (M. Ḳ. iii. 4a et al.) was the copy from which the high priest read on the Day of Atonement and which served as a model (Blau, l.c. p. 107).

Three other codices from the Temple court are mentioned: "Sefer Me'on," "Sefer Za'aṭuṭe," and "Sefer Hi," and they still served as models at the beginning of the fourth century (ib. p. 104). After the destruction of the Temple the Torah of the celebrated copyist R. Meïr, the codex of Emperor Severus, and others (ib. p. 111) are mentioned, while from post-Talmudic times date the codices of Hillel, Sanbuki, and others. The most celebrated was the codex of Ben Asher, used by Maimonides (H. L. Strack, "Prolegomena Critica in Vetus Testamentum Hebraicum"). See Bible Manuscripts.

  • L. Löw, Graphische Requisiten bei den Juden, Leipsic, 1870-71;
  • L. Blau, Studien zum Althebräischen Buchwesen und zur Biblischen Litteratur- und Textgeschichte, Budapest and Strasburg, 1902 (where a full bibliography is given);
  • idem, Ueber den Einfluss des Althebräischen Buchwesens, in Berliner Festschrift, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1903 (also printed separately).
J. L. B.

It is now necessary to inquire how the Hebrew manuscripts collected in various public and private libraries were written, and in what form the material of which they consist was presented. The time over which the inquiry extends ranges, roughly speaking, from about the year 900 of the common era down to the present day, though in some instances, notably in the case of papyri, an earlier period is referred to. For inscriptions on stone, metal, and other hard substances see Paleography.

I. Materials Used to Receive Writing.— Earliest Papyri.

Papyrus(Greek, πάπυρος, from the ancient Egyptian word "p-apa"; but in Herodotus always βύβλος, no doubt also from an Egyptian term; Hebrew, "neyar," apparently representing the Arabic "naur"): The number of Hebrew papyri hitherto discovered is quite insignificant as compared with the numerous classical papyri recently brought into Europe from Egypt. There is the small number of Egyptian-Aramaic papyri belonging to the late Ptolemaic or early Roman period, of which the British Museum papyrus No. cvi.*is a good representative specimen (see the first specimen of writing on Plate I.; also "Proc. Soc. Bibl. Arch." xxv., parts 4 and 5). Some pieces dating from the sixth to the ninth century have been described by Steinschneider, Chwolson, and others (for references see bibliography below). The Cambridge University Library possesses a mutilated liturgical codex assigned to the ninth century. The papyrus of the Decalogue in the same library, first described by S. A. Cook ("Proc. Soc. Bibl. Arch." xxv., part i.; see Jew. Encyc. iv. 493, s.v. Decalogue), may be assigned to the sixth or seventh century (see Pl. III., No. 59). A few Oxford fragments, probably of the sixth century, have beendescribed by A. Cowley in "J. Q. R." Oct., 1903 (see Pl. I., No. 2).

Skins (Hebrew, "'or," known also as "gewil"; Greek, διφέρα, a term which in early times was transferred to papyrus, and was later on applied to vellum also): None of the skin was peeled off, but the hair was carefully rubbed away; for it was the hair side that was used for writing upon. The ancient rule of using only skins for Torah rolls has not, however, been universally followed in the period under consideration. The Yemenite rolls (Pentateuch, Esther, and V08p305001.jpg) are indeed all of red skin; and the Pentateuch rolls written in the eighteenth century for the Jews of K'ai-Fung-Foo, China (e.g., Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 19,250), are of white leather. The oldest Pentateuch roll (14th cent., Spanish origin) in the British Museum is also of leather; but there are many specimens on vellum belonging to the sixteenth century and onward. Of the forty-seven Karaite Pentateuch rolls in the Imperial Library, St. Petersburg, only five are of leather, the remaining forty-two being of vellum. This proportion no doubt represents the greater deviation among the Karaites from the old synagogue rolls. For the Book of Esther vellum appears to have been more largely used than for the Torah. A roll of the Hafṭarot on leather, written in Corfu in 1560, found its way into Europe a few years ago. For manuscripts in book form skins would in early times have been naturally superseded by parchment or vellum as material fitted for receiving writing on both sides.

Parchment and Vellum (Hebrew, "ḳelaf" and "doksosṭos," for the exact meaning of which see above): For practical purposes, that is to say, so far as the manuscripts now under consideration are concerned, it is enough to remark that "ḳelaf," not unlike the term "parchment" in its more restricted sense, signifies the rougher article, while by "doksosṭos," as by the term "vellum," the finer variety is meant. The Jews were no doubt at all times adepts in the art of producing parchment and vellum, as they had so much need of the materials, and as a religious intention during the manufacture was considered important; but their art would naturally be conditioned, to a large extent at any rate, by the degree of perfection attained in it in the countries where they were domiciled. The finest kinds of vellum used for Hebrew manuscripts were of Spanish and Italian origin. As examples of the former may be mentioned Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 5866 (liturgy, middle of 15th cent.: thin vellum, delicately worked, smooth surface), and Brit. Mus. MSS. Or. 2626-2628 (Bible, 1482-1483: stout, crisp, and pretty smooth). A fine specimen of Italian vellum of about the middle of the same century is furnished by Brit. Mus. MSS. Add. 19,444-19,445 (Florentine liturgy: material very carefully prepared and slightly tinted). Rougher sorts of material were to be found by the side of the finer kind in both countries.

Examples of Old Vellum.

Among representative codices of earlier times, the British Museum Pentateuch dating from the ninth century (MS. Or. 4445, apparently of Babylonian origin) consists of strong, crisp, and very smooth vellum. Brit. Mus. MS. Harley 5720 (probably of early part of 12th cent.; also of Eastern origin) is hard and strong, with surface not very smooth. The British Museum copy of the Maḥzor Vitry (MSS. Add. 27,200-27,201: 12th cent.; French origin) is written on a very inferior sort of material. French as well as German vellum employed for Hebrew in the Middle Ages is, in fact, as a rule coarse as compared with the Spanish and Italian kinds; but Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 11, 639 (collection of works, 12th cent.), from the south of France, is an example of exceedingly fine, smooth vellum. The vellum used for Hebrew charters in England in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries (note especially the large collection belonging to Westminster Abbey) is fairly good, though fineness of manufacture can not be expected in material used for this particular purpose. Some of the early examples of vellum (11th and 12th cent.) found in the Cairo Genizah are stout and smooth; other specimens are of a rougher manufacture. No example of purple-stained vellum, of which there are fair numbers among Greek and Latin manuscripts, has so far come to light among Hebrew ones. On the comparative use of vellum and paper see below.

Paper (Greek, πάπυρος, name taken over from "papyrus"; called also "charta bombycina," "charta Damascena," etc.; Hebrew, V08p305002.jpg, also taken over from the Hebrew name for papyrus): This material was known to the Chinese at a very early period; and the Arabs are said to have first learned its use at Samarcand about the middle of the eighth century (for an account of recent researches on this matter see "J. R. A. S." Oct., 1903, first article, where further references will be found). A Judæo-Persian document lately brought from Khotan, written (in Persian in Hebrew characters) on paper, appears to belong to the eighth century (see "J. R. A. S." Oct., 1903, fifth article). Another extant example of a Judæo-Persian document is dated 1020 ("J. Q. R." 1899, pp. 671 et seq.).

Karaite Manuscripts.

The Karaites, standing as they did in very close connection with the Arab world, and being also less tied by this kind of conservatism, appear to have used no other material than paper for their manuscripts in book form. Karaite collections of manuscripts are, therefore, an excellent means of studying the kinds of paper made in Palestine, Egypt, and Turkey during a practically uninterrupted period from the tenth century onward. Thus Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 2540 (Exodus: Hebrew text in Arabic characters; see the first two specimens on Pl. IV., col. 2) belongs to the tenth century. Among the dated Karaite manuscripts are found specimens belonging to 1004, 1024, 1027, 1211, 1331, 1564, 1614, 1700, 1744, and 1869. Like early Oriental paper generally, the older kind of Karaite paper (apparently made for the most part of fine linen rag) is stout, of a yellowish tint, and with a glossy surface. In later times the yellowish tint gradually disappears, the texture becomes rougher, and the surface less smooth. The early specimens of paper used by the Karaites are, moreover, much finer than the Khotan Hebræo-Persian document (probably Chinese paper) already referred to. An early dated example of a Rabbinite manuscript on paper is Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 73 (1192; Rashi's commentaryon Baba Meẓi'a, written in the East). A British Museum copy of the "Taḥkemoni" (MS. Add. 27,113; Spanish Oriental writing) is dated 1282. The last-named two manuscripts show the same kind of slight yellowish tint; but the paper of the second is thicker than that of the first. A specimen of Italian paper of 1363-64 is furnished by Cambridge University Library MSS. Dd. 11, 12; and Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 27,293 (also of about the middle of the 14th cent.) is a specimen of fairly early Spanish paper.

The European Jews were slow in allowing paper to displace vellum; for though several paper-factories are known to have existed in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries (indeed, the earliest known mention of paper made in Europe occurs in the tract of Peter, Abbot of Cluny, 1122-50), there are comparatively few Hebrew paper manuscripts of the fourteenth century. There is a fair number of the following century; and the proportion kept on growing until the use of paper became quite common among the Jews from the seventeenth century onward.

Paper in Egypt.

Egypt as a center of Arab life would naturally abound in paper manuscripts fairly early; and the contents of the Cairo Genizah accordingly include specimens dated 832 (in the possession of E. N. Adler), 977, 1005, etc. (at the British Museum and elsewhere). In Yemen paper was used by the Jews pretty freely side by side with vellum from the fifteenth century and probably earlier. The older specimens of Yemenite paper often show an exaggerated kind of yellow tint. For the rest, the Jews of the different countries would naturally depend on the paper manufactured there; and the information contained, e.g., in Sir E. M. Thompson's "Greek and Latin Palæography," will, therefore, be found to apply to Hebrew manuscripts also in so far as vellum can be shown to have in some degree given place to paper.

II. Writing-Fluids, etc.: Kinds of Ink.

The ink (Hebrew, "deyo"; Arabian variety, "ḥibr") used by the Jews during the period here considered would naturally be much the same as that used by their Gentile neighbors in different countries. On the manufacture of ink generally see Thompson, l.c. pp. 50, 51. The ink sanctioned by Maimonides, and no doubt used by him for writing his own scroll of the Law, was, according to a responsum discovered a few years ago, made of oil, pitch, resin, gum arabic, etc. By burning these substances a soot was formed which was mixed with gum and honey, and the thin slices formed of it were finally dissolved in an infusion of galls (see "J. Q. R." July and Oct., 1899). Vitriol (V08p306001.jpg; χάλκανΘος) is expressly excluded by Maimonides, though he does not absolutely forbid it. His point is that the ink should cleave firmly to the vellum, but that, at the same time, one should be able to erase it (on this point, as on the preparation of ink generally, see Löw, "Graphische Requisiten und Erzeugnisse bei den Juden," p. 145; and Ink).

With regard to the appearance of the ink actually used in the manuscripts now under observation, it should be noted that Torah rolls are all written with black ink (though early Samaritan scrolls are written with ink of a reddish hue). Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 4445 (9th cent.) and in fact many of the early manuscripts written in the East are in black or bluish black. Several of the finest Spanish codices show a yellow tint, while the finer sort of Italian manuscripts present a more or less violet one. German ink is generally black, though not very pronouncedly so. Early Cairo Genizah fragments often show a yellow tint; but Yemenite ink is usually black.

Red ink is sometimes, though but rarely, used alternately with the usual writing-fluid. Pigments of different kinds, though generally red, are sometimes used for initial words, etc. On the use of gold as a writing-fluid see p. 313 under "Illuminations."

Kinds of Pens.

With regard to writing-instruments, only the reed ("ḳulmos"; κάλαμος) and the quill pen need be considered here. It is difficult to say when the quill came into use, and for how long the reed was used alongside of it. Syrian scribes are known to have used the quill as far back as 509 (Wright, "Cat. Syriac MSS. in Brit. Mus." p. xxvii.); and the Ostrogoth Theodoric (c. 454-526) is reported to have used a quill for writing his name. The reed, on the other hand, continued in use to some extent through the Middle Ages, and appears to have survived in Italy into the fifteenth century (Thompson, l.c. p. 49). Several early Hebrew codices of Eastern origin appear to have been written with a reed; but the greater suitability of the more flexible quill pen could not have been overlooked by Jewish scribes even in comparatively early times.

III. Forms of Books:

Apart from contracts of small size ("geṭ," "sheṭarḥaliẓah," etc.), which would naturally be preserved flat, there call for consideration (1) the roll and (2) manuscripts in book form.

Size of Rolls.

The Roll (Hebrew, "megillah"; Latin, "volumen"; used only for the five scrolls, the Torah roll itself being always called "Sefer Torah"): This consists of a number of strips of leather or vellum sewed together to form a continuous whole. It is, at one end, fixed to a stick round which it is rolled; and it is usually provided with a flat, round border-piece at top and bottom to keep the roll even. The number of columns to a strip varies considerably; and there is also great diversity in the height of rolls. Brit. Mus. MS. Harley 7619, which is about 26¾ ins. high, is probably one of the largest extant. Esther rolls are sometimes of very diminutive dimensions. A very remarkable and perhaps unique specimen of a roll is Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 26,883 (containing cabalistic prayers written in Italy in the 15th cent.), which, though measuring about 125 ins. from end to end (the height being about 4½ ins.), is all of one piece instead of consisting of strips sewed together. The vellum of this roll is very fine; and the workmanship in straightening out so long a piece must have been exceedingly elaborate. Rolls of Ruth, Lamentations, the Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes are far less frequent than those of Esther. The Yemenite rolls of the V08p306002.jpg (to which the hafṭarah for the Ninth of Ab is found attached), as also a leatherroll of 1560 containing the hafṭarot, have already been mentioned. For Karaite Torah rolls consult Harkavy and Strack, "Catalog der Hebräischen Bibelhandschriften zu St. Petersburg," Nos. 1-47. For Samaritan rolls see Harkavy, "Catalog der Hebräischen und Samaritanischen Handschriften der Kaiserlichen Oeffentlichen Bibliothek" (in Russian), St. Petersburg, 1875.

Size of Books.

Manuscripts in Book Form: Manuscripts in book form date from the whole period under consideration, and were doubtless in use for a number of centuries before. Most of the early codices that have been preserved are very large. Thus Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 4445 measures about 16½ ins. by 13 ins.; the St. Petersburg codex of 916, about 14¾ ins. by 12⅙ ins.; the Vatican codex of the Sifra, dating from 1073, about 12¾ ins. by 10 ins.; the British Museum copy of the Maḥzor Vitry, about 15½ ins. by 12 ins. Small sizes are, however, not wanting. German codices of the Bible and liturgy written in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries are generally very large. Among manuscripts written in Italy the quarto and octavo sizes are much more common than in Germany. Spanish Bible codices of the thirteenth to the fifteenth century are as a rule handsome quartos; but the comparatively few Spanish service-books extant are usually very small, probably on account of the proscription under which Jewish worship lay in Spain, and owing to the fact that small volumes could be more easily hidden away. North-African manuscripts of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries are more often octavos than quartos. Yemenite Bible codices are generally folios, and liturgies either folios or quartos. The Karaites had a great predilection for the octavo size.

In the arrangement of quires (generally 8 or 10 leaves to a gathering), etc., Hebrew manuscripts do not differ from contemporary Latin and Greek ones; and the student may, therefore, be referred to general works on paleography. When a Hebrew vellum manuscript is opened, "the two pages before the reader have the same appearance, either the yellow tinge of the hair side or the whiter surface of the flesh side" (Thompson, l.c. pp. 62-63). There is usually at the end of each quire a catchword indicating the first word of the next quire. Signatures in Hebrew letters—in the case of Hebrew-Arabic works, sometimes in either Arabic letters or numerals—were generally placed in the left-hand lower corner on the last page of a quire, but occasionally in the right-hand upper corner of the first page. In some cases both methods were adopted. In Karaite manuscripts the signatures are often in the left-hand upper corner of the first page.

Ruling of Manuscripts.

The ruling of Hebrew manuscripts is not different from that observable in contemporary classical ones. There are usually perpendicular lines to mark off the columns, besides the horizontal ruling. The prickings in the margin made to mark the distances between the horizontal lines have in many cases been cut away in the process of binding. The writing sometimes depends from the ruled line instead of standing on it; so, e.g., Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 4445 (9th cent.; comp. Blau, "Studien zum Althebräischen Buchwesen," p. 147).

The earlier codices of large size have usually either two (e.g., St. Petersburg codex of the year 916) or three columns (e.g., Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 4445) (see Blau, l.c. pp. 138-139). Manuscripts of small size generally exhibit but one column to a page. In later times the single column became much more frequent even in manuscripts of larger size.

IV. Styles of Writing: Copying from Printed Forms.

The style of writing Hebrew has in each country been influenced more or less by causes similar to those which produced what may fairly be called national differences in calligraphy generally. So far as Europe is concerned, Hebrew penmanship most probably was brought first to the countries of the southern coast, more especially to Spain and Italy; and spread thence into France, Germany, and divers other countries, assuming various modifications in its course. The locality in which a manuscript was written is, however, not always a safe guide to the kind of calligraphy used, as it sometimes happened that a scribe belonging to one part of the world prosecuted his profession for a longer or shorter time in a different country. It should also be remarked that after the introduction of printing there arose a tendency to copy from printed forms; so that, in Europe at any rate, the square character has for several centuries past been almost everywhere conforming to one particular form of calligraphy. The earlier printed books were, it is true, set up in types that were cut differently in different countries (compare especially the early Spanish with the early Italian printed books); but the Spanish forms soon superseded all the others, and they have on account of their greater regularity ever since maintained their ground both in printing and in writing.

In the following observations the specimens of writing given in the accompanying four plates are referred to their sources and localities, and attention is occasionally directed to some peculiarities of penmanship. As a rule, however, the specimens are left to speak for themselves.

  • A. Square Writing: This series is, for the sake of completeness, preceded by two lines taken from the above-mentioned British Museum papyrus No. cvi.* (belonging to the late Ptolemaic or early Roman period), as the Hebrew-Aramaic writing then used exhibits a close affinity with the Palmyrene character, and thus forms an important link in the transition to the square character. Then follow specimens of:Plate I.V08p308001.jpgPlate II.V08p309001.jpgPlate III.V08p310001.jpgPlate IV.V08p311001.jpgEarly Oriental (Nos. 2-8): No. 2 is taken from an Oxford papyrus belonging to the sixth or seventh century ("J. Q. R." xvi., No. 61); No. 3, from the Hebræo-Persian document (apparently of the 8th cent.) lately brought from Khotan in central Asia and already referred to; No. 4, from Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 4445 (9th cent.); No. 5, from the St. Petersburg codex of the Later Prophets (dated 916); No. 6, from Codex Gaster No. 150 (belonging to about the same period); No. 7, from a contract (dated 980) on vellum, brought to the British Museum from the Cairo Genizah; No. 8, from Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 1467 (Persian origin, probably 11th cent.). With regard to No. 3 it should be noted that though the final "nun" (of which, however, no instance appears in the specimen) is long in the document, this is no mark of later date; for the long form of the letter appears in early papyri (as in specimen No. 2). In Nos. 4-6 the final "nun" is uniformly short. No. 8 shows the superlinear punctuation combined with the ordinary mode of accentuation.Syro-Egyptian (Nos. 9-11): No. 9 is taken from a Hebrew letter, dated 1055, brought to the British Museum from the Cairo Genizah; No. 10, from the text of the Hebrew Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), also from the Cairo Genizah (11th-12th cent.); No. 11, from Pl. I. of Neubauer's portfolio of facsimiles (referred to hereafter as "Neubauer") printed to illustrate his catalogue of Oxford manuscripts (12th-13th cent.). In No. 9 note the peculiar combined form of V08p312001.jpg (which is really Rabbinic). The mark over the second word of line 2 in No. 10 refers to a marginal note in the original. In No. 11 both the punctuation and the accentuation are superlinear.Spanish (Nos. 12-15): No. 12 is taken from the Brit. Mus. MS. Harley 5720 (11th cent.); No. 13, from Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 2201 (dated 1246); No. 14, from a Bible codex belonging to the Earl of Leicester (13th cent.; see C. D. Ginsburg, "Facsimiles," London, 1898); No. 15, from Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 2626 (dated 1483). No. 12 may fairly be described as representing a transition stage from the early Oriental square writing to the Spanish.Italian (Nos. 16-18): No. 16 is taken from Brit. Mus. MS. Arundel Or. 2 (dated 1216); No. 17, from Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 2736 (dated 1390); No. 18, from Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 18,692 (handwriting of Abraham Farissol, dated 1478). It should here be remarked that instead of the square writing in the proper sense of the word, Italian scribes often employ for Bible codices the semi-Rabbinic character exemplified in No. 45 (see below).Franco-German (Nos. 19-21): No. 19 is taken from Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 10,455 (dated 1310); No. 20, from Cambridge University Library MSS. Ee, 8, 9 (dated 1347; see the "Oriental Series of the Palæographical Society" [hereafter referred to as "O. S."], Pl. XLI.); No. 21, from Neubauer, Pl. XI. (written before 1471). Note especially the sloping character of No. 20, a peculiar mark of German writing.Greek (Nos. 22-24): No. 22 is taken from the Carlsruhe codex of the Prophets (dated 1105-6; "O. S." Pl. LXXVII.); No. 23, from Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 27,205 (dated 1179); No. 24, from Neubauer, Pl. XXI. (written before 1263).Yemenite (Nos. 25-28): No. 25 is taken from Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 2373 (13th-14th cent.); No. 26, from Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 2370 (dated 1460-61); No. 27, from Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 2210 (dated 1468); No. 28, from Neubauer, Pl. XXXI. (dated 1561).Varia (Nos. 29-31): No. 29 is taken from Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 2496, showing Karaite square writing of apparently the thirteenth century; No. 30, from a Pentateuch roll written for the Jews of K'ai-Fung-Foo, China (18th cent.; Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 19,250; showing the dependence of Chinese on Persian writing); No. 31, from Neubauer, Pl. XXXIX. (see Harkavy, "Neuaufgefundene Bibelhandschriften," Table II.—perhaps a forgery).
  • B. Square Rabbinic or Semi-Rabbinic Writing: This series shows an approximation in greater or less degree to the freer Rabbinic style of writing.Syro-Egyptian (Nos. 32-38): No. 32 is taken from an Oxford papyrus of the sixth or seventh century (see "J. Q. R." xvi., No. 61); No. 33, from a manuscript of the above-mentioned Hebrew Ecclesiasticus (perhaps 9th cent.) belonging to E. N. Adler; No. 34, from the Genizah document Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 5538 (dated 1003); No. 35, from the Genizah document Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 5536 (dated 1015); No. 36, from the Genizah document Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 5545 (dated 1089); No. 37, from the Genizah document Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 5551 (dated 1151); No. 38, from Neubauer, Pl. IV. (signature of Maimonides). The Rabbinic tendency in No. 35 is only slight; but the ח is written freely, and the general appearance of the specimen shows affinity with semi-Rabbinic. It is necessary to note the slighter approximation of the square to the freer Rabbinic forms.Spanish and North-African (Nos. 39-42): No. 39 is taken from Brit. Mus. MS. Harley 5530 (13th cent.); No. 40, from Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 5866 (middle of 15th cent.); No. 41, from Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 5600 (15th cent.); No. 42, from Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 19,780 (17th cent.). No. 40 appears to be of decidedly Spanish origin, the remaining three numbers being North-African (No. 42 can be definitely located as Algerian).Italian (Nos. 43-46): No. 43 is taken from the Leyden copy of the Talmud Yerushalmi (dated 1281; see "O. S." Pl. LVI.); No. 44, from Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 18,690 (written between 1332 and 1350); No. 45, from Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 19,944 (dated 1441); No. 46, from Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 1081 (dated 1390). No. 46 appears to show French characteristics combined with Italian ones.Franco-German (Nos. 47-50): No. 47 is taken from the Vatican copy of the Sifra (dated 1073; see "O. S." Pl. XC.); No. 48, from Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 27,214 (dated 1091); No. 49, from Brit. Mus. MS. Arundel Or. 51 (dated 1189); No. 50, from Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 5466 (dated 1690). In Nos. 47-49 the tendency to semi-Rabbinic is but slight.Greek (No. 51): This specimen is taken from Brit. Mus. MS. Harley 5583 (15th-16th cent.).Yemenite (Nos. 52-53): No. 52 is taken from Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 4837 (a fine copy of Ibn Janaḥ's "Kitab al-Uṣul," 14th cent.); No. 53, from Neubauer, Pl. XXXII. (dated 1491).Karaite (Nos. 54-56): No. 54 is taken from Neubauer, Pl. XXXIV. (13th-14th cent.); No. 55, ib. Pl. XXXV. (written before 1353); No. 56, ib. Pl. XXXVI. (dated 1747).Persian (Nos. 57-58): No. 57 is taken from Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 5446 (Pentateuch in Persian; dated 1319); No. 58, from Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 2451 (dated 1483).
  • C. Rabbinic Writing: This series exhibits various styles of writing of a decided Rabbinic character.Early Oriental (Nos. 59-60): No. 59 is taken from the Decalogue papyrus referred to above (probably 6th or 7th cent.); No. 60, from Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 73 (perhaps written at Mosul; dated 1190).Syro-Egyptian (Nos. 61-63): No. 61 is taken fromBrit. Mus. MS. Or. 5519 (12th cent.); No. 62, from Neubauer, Pl. III. (13th-14th cent.); No. 63, ib. Pl. VI. (14th cent.?).Spanish (Nos. 64-65): No. 64 is taken from Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 14,763 (dated 1273); No. 65, from Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 5866 (middle of 15th cent.; for semi-Rabbinic forms from the same manuscripts see No. 40).North-African, etc. (Nos. 66-68): No. 66 is taken from Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 27,113 (dated 1282); No. 67, from Neubauer, Pl. VII. (dated 1480; described as Syrian Rabbinic Maghrebi character); No. 68, ib. Pl. XIII. (15th cent.; described as Oriental Provençal).Italian (No. 69): Specimen taken from Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 5024 (dated 1374).Franco-German (Nos. 70-72): No. 70 is taken from Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 17,049 (dated 1394); No. 71, from Cambridge University Library MS. Add. 560 (dated 1401; see "O. S." Pl. LXVIII.); No. 72, from Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 27,199 (Elijah Levita's autograph; dated 1515).Greek (Nos. 73-74): No. 73 is taken from Neubauer, Pl. XXIII. (written before 1184); No. 74, ib. Pl. XXV. (dated 1375).
Specimens of Cursive.
  • D. Cursive Writing: This series is preceded by two specimens (Karaite) of writing in which the Hebrew text is written in the Arabic character and provided with Hebrew punctuation. No. 75 is taken from Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 2540 (10th cent.), and No. 76 from Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 2549 (11th cent.). No. 77 (Neubauer, Pl. XIX.; dated 1506) is Oriental. No. 78 (ib. Pl. X.; handwriting of Jacob b. Ḥayyim, early 16th cent.) is a specimen of Spanish cursive. Nos. 79-83 are Italian. No. 79, from Neubauer, Pl. XXIX., is old Italian; No. 80, from Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 27,096, is Mordecai Dato's writing (16th cent.). No. 81, from Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 27,148, is Judah Modena's autograph (1648); No. 82, from Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 26,991, is Solomon Portaleone's autograph (17th cent.); and No. 83, from Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 27,103, is Joseph Almanzi's autograph. Nos. 84 and 85 are German, the former being taken from Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 18,695 (a Maḥzor in a Judæo-German translation, dated 1504), and the latter from Neubauer, Pl. XVII. (Heidenheim's autograph). No. 86 is Karaite German cursive writing, dated 1826 (Neubauer, Pl. XXXVII.).Here may fitly be added a specimen of writing from V08p313001.jpg Codex Gaster 80, fol. 23b, which contains forms rarely found elsewhere. Remarkable is the abbreviation of V08p313002.jpg in line 2. The manuscript contains Maimonides' "Sefer ha-Madda'," and may belong to the fourteenth or to the thirteenth century. The writing appears to combine Yemenite with Persian characteristics (perhaps displaying the former more than the latter).
V. Illuminations: Comparative Frequency of Illuminations.

Illuminations in Hebrew manuscripts are far from being rare. Roughly speaking, the proportion of illuminated codices in a large and representative collection of Hebrew manuscripts would probably be found to be about seven or eight, if not more, in every hundred. On some early Eastern illuminations of Biblical codices (mostly in gold) see M. Gaster, "Hebrew Illuminated Bibles of the IXth and Xth Centuries (Codices Gaster 150, 151)." A fair specimen of early Persian chain-like ornamentation can be seen in "O. S." Pl. LIV. (Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 1467). Fine specimens of arabesque border illumination are found, e.g., in Brit. Mus. MSS. Or. 2626-2628 of the year 1483-84, and in Brit. Mus. MSS. Harley 5698 and 5699, a page of which has been reproduced in colors for the present article (see frontispiece). In this instance, however, the arabesque form has been much modified. On Haggadah illuminations see Haggadah.

Spain and Provence seem to have been foremost in the last-named branch of illustration. Fine German illuminations are comparatively rare. The ornamentations, or what were meant for such, found in German copies of the Bible, etc., are as a rule grotesque rather than appropriate. Very interesting specimens of French illuminations, however, are found in Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 11,639 (12th and 13th cent.), containing a collection of Biblical, liturgical, and other texts. A finely ornamented page of an early Karaite Biblical text (10th cent.) has been reproduced in colors in G. Margoliouth, "Catalogue of the Hebrew and Samaritan MSS. in the British Museum," vol. i, Pl. V. (Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 2540).

VI. Palimpsests: Palimpsests and Colophons.

Hebrew palimpsests, i.e., manuscripts showing Hebrew written over erased or partly erased earlier writing, are rare. The Jews, as was only natural, did not, as a rule, like to utilize for sacred purposes material that had been used for other objects. Some notable examples of Hebrew palimpsests have, however, been found in the Cairo Genizah. From this source come the Oxford fragments containing Hebrew writing of apparently the twelfth century over Palestinian Syriac of the sixth and seventh, and eighth and ninth centuries (see Gwilliam and others in "Anecdota Oxoniensia," Semitic Series, 1893-96). More interesting still are the Cambridge palimpsests which contain Hebrew of the eleventh and twelfth centuries written over portions of Aquila's Greek version of the Old Testament and Origen's Hexapla (see F. C. Burkitt, "Fragments of the Books of Kings According to the Translation of Aquila," 1897; and C. Taylor, "Hebrew-Greek Cairo-Genizah Palimpsests," 1900). A page of palimpsest in which a Hebrew liturgical text of 1179 was written over Latin writing of the tenth century can be seenin "O. S." Pl. LXXVIII. (Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 27,205); see also Jew. Encyc. s.v. Aquila.

VII. Colophons:

At the end of a manuscript, and sometimes also at the conclusion of parts of the same, a colophon (Greek, κολοφών) or "finishing stroke" is often found. In its fullest form the colophon contains (1) the title of the work, (2) the name of the scribe, (3) the name of the person for whom the manuscript was written, (4) the place of writing, (5) the date, and (6) precative and benedictive sentences, usually taken from the Bible (see Colophon).

The mention of the title in a colophon is, in the case of unknown or little-known works, helpful for identification, if, as not infrequently happens, the beginning of the manuscripts has been lost. The entries of scribes' names at times reveal long genealogies of families among which the profession of copying had descended from father to son for a number of generations. Scribes sometimes mark off their names also in the initial letters of one or more pages of the manuscripts. The complimentary epithets lavished by the scribe on his rich, or comparatively rich, employer are often conspicuous enough; but the more important references to descent and position are not wanting. There are also cases in which the scribe writes his manuscript for himself or for one or other of his children. The mention of the place of writing is, of course, useful for localizing the different styles of writing, though, as has already been mentioned, caution has to be exercised in this respect.

The manner of dating a manuscript demands special notice. For some points connected with the subject see Chronology and Era. Mention should be made first of the two specifically Jewish modes of dating, and then of eras borrowed from other nations.

Methods of Dating Manuscripts.
  • (1) The era of the Creation is in common use in manuscripts written in most parts of Europe; and as it appears to have been generally adopted about the middle of the tenth century of the common era, it was used in the entire period here dealt with. If the full number of years from the Creation is given, the reckoning is styled "peraṭ gadol" (abbreviated V08p314001.jpg); and the year of the common era is obtained by subtracting the number 3760 (or 3761, if the manuscript was written, or rather finished, in the first three months of the Jewish year). But the thousands are often omitted; and the reckoning is then called "peraṭ ḳaṭon" (abbreviated V08p314002.jpg). In such cases the number 1240 (or 1241) has to be added in order to obtain the date of the common era.
  • (2) Dating from the destruction of the Second Temple (i.e., from the year 68) is comparatively rare in manuscripts, but it is not, as has been thought, strictly confined to Greece; for this mode of dating is found not only in the Carlsruhe copy of the Prophets, which was written in a Greek Ashkenazic hand in 1105-6 (V08p314003.jpg V08p314004.jpg = 4866 of the Creation or 1038 from the destruction of the Temple), but also in the Vatican copy of the Sifra written in a French hand in 1073, and (see below) in a manuscript from Yemen.
"Minyan Sheṭarot."

A very common mode of dating manuscripts written in the East is

  • (3) by the Seleucidan or Greek era ("le-ḥeshbon ha-Yewanim," "le-minyan sheṭarot," or simply "li-sheṭarot"; sometimes considered to synchronize with the cessation of prophecy). In order to obtain the corresponding C.E. date, 311 (or 312 if the manuscript is dated within the first three months of the Jewish year) has to be subtracted. This era is by far the most common in Hebrew manuscripts written in Yemen, though the era of the Creation as well as the Mohammedan era is also occasionally met with, one era being sometimes followed by another. The Karaites use also the Greek era; but the reckoning from the Creation is more common in their colophons. The Karaites add the Mohammedan era more frequently than do the Jews of Yemen.
  • (4) The Mohammedan era just referred to is generally introduced under the designation "ḥeshbon ha-Yishme'elim"; but the expression "le-ḳeren ze'era" (in allusion to Dan. vii. 8) is also found.
  • (5) The common era is of very rare occurrence in Hebrew colophons; and it then only follows the year of the Creation previously given. Thus Brit. Mus. MS. Harley 5704 (containing a unique copy of the Yalḳuṭ Makiri on the Minor Prophets, written for Cardinal Ægidius) is dated "Tuesday, the 16th day of Ab, in the year 274 of the 'small reckoning' [V08p314005.jpg: this being at the same time an example of utilizing the numerical value of a Scriptural phrase for dating], and according to their reckoning 1514" (the term "li-yeẓirah" being then added by mistake). There are some instances where the Christian month is given side by side with the year of the Creation.
Multiple Dating.

A remarkable instance of multiple dating (though given at the beginning of the manuscript, and, therefore, not in the form of a colophon) is found in Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 27,294 (containing an Arabic commentary in Hebrew characters on Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, ch. i.-iv.; see "J. Q. R." xiii. 488), which was written by the scholarly Yemenite compiler Sa'id ibn Daud. It contains the following datings: (1) V08p314006.jpg (1889 years since the destruction of the First Temple); (2) V08p314007.jpg (1398 since the destruction of the Second Temple); (3) . . . V08p314008.jpg (date of Exodus no longer legible); (4) V08p314009.jpg (1778, according to the era of contracts); (5) . . . V08p314010.jpg (date of the Creation no longer legible); (6) V08p314011.jpg V08p314012.jpg(1778 since the cessation of prophecy; the same as No. 4).

It should here be remarked that the date of a manuscript may, in the absence of a colophon, be computed from the table of calendar cycles of nineteen years that is sometimes (more especially in liturgical manuscripts) added to the text. Thus Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 27,205 must have been written about 1180; for the table of cycles commences with V08p314013.jpg, the two hundred and sixty cycles past yielding 260 × 19 = 4940 A.M. = 1180 C.E. In manuscripts containing digests of Talmudical law, the date maysometimes be gathered from the year given in the form of the letter of divorcement ("geṭ"), etc.

A curious addition, sometimes attached to colophons (in certain cases standing by itself), is the precative phrase that the scribe should suffer no injury (V08p315001.jpg) "until an ass should mount on the ladder [dreamed of by Jacob]" (V08p315002.jpg [V08p315003.jpg]; see "O. S." description of Pl. LXVIII).

VIII. Owners, etc.:

A large number of manuscripts contain the names of those who at one time or another owned them. These are generally found on fly-leaves at the beginning or at the end, but sometimes also in the margin of inner leaves. Occasionally owners record the births of their children on the fly-leaves, more rarely deaths and other events. In a number of instances manuscripts are marked as having been obtained by an owner at the division of his late father's or another testator's property. Contracts of transfer of manuscripts by sale are also often found; and occasionally the pawning of a manuscript is recorded on one of its fly-leaves. The money value that was at the time attached to the manuscript is sometimes stated in the notices of sale.

IX. Censors:

On this subject see Censorship of Hebrew Books. The following few remarks may, however, be added to what is said in that article: An instance of self-imposed censorship in France, about 1291, is found in a Hebrew manuscript at the British Museum (Add. 19,664). Brit. Mus. MS. Add. 17,050 contains (in the form of a fly-leaf) a document, dated Lugo, Feb. 16, 1610, by which permission was given to carry the codex to Modena. Brit. Mus. MS. Or. 74 contains an entry made for the censor by his notary. Very often the entries of several censors are found on the same page, the manuscript having been from time to time subjected to fresh examinations.

  • In addition to the sources given in the article the following may be cited: On papyri: Steinschneider, in Zeitschrift für Aegyptische Sprache, xvii. 93;
  • Chwolson, C. I. H. cols. 120-125;
  • Erman and Krebs, Aus den Papyri des Königlichen Museums, p. 290;
  • Mittheilungen aus der Sammlung des Erzherzog Rainer, i. 38-44. Catalogues: See list in Jew. Encyc. iii. 618 et seq. Facsimiles: Neubauer, Facsimiles of Hebrew MSS. in the Bodleian Library, Preface, 1886 (which has been largely drawn upon in the accompanying plates);
  • C. D. Ginsburg, Series of XVIII. Facsimiles of MSS. of the Hebrew Bible, London, 1898;
  • The Haggadah of Sarajevo, Vienna, 1898;
  • and The Fragments Hitherto Recovered of the Hebrew Text of Ecclesiasticus, Oxford and Cambridge, 1901.
G. G. M.

The following list gives the number of known Hebrew manuscripts in existence with the names of libraries or private owners possessing them. The dates in parentheses are those of the printed catalogues of the collections.

Bodleian, Oxford (1886).2,511
E. N. Adler1,476
British Museum (1893)1,196
Cambridge University762
Jews' College (1903)580
Beth-Hamedrash (1884)147
C. D. Ginsburg80
Trinity College, Cambridge29
Christ Church, Oxford13
France and Switzerland.
Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale (1866)1,313
Baron Günzburg900
St. Petersburg880
Germany and Austria-Hungary.
Munich (1897)408
Hamburg (1878)355
Berlin (1897)259
Vienna (1847)257
Breslau Seminary190
Strasburg (1881)51
Leipsic, Ratsbibliothek (1838)43
Erfurt (1863)17
Budapest Seminary12
Geiger (Hochschule), Berlin12
Parma (1803, 1880)1,634
Vatican, Rome (1756)580
Turin (1874)294
Mantua (1878)178
Angelica, Rome (1878)54
Bologna (1887)28
Vittorio Emanuele, Rome (1878)28
Venice (1886)19
Spain and Portugal.
United States.
Jewish Theological Seminary, New York.750
Columbia University100
Sutro, San Francisco135
Holland and Scandinavia.
Leyden (1858)116
Upsala (1893)38
Copenhagen (1846)16
Lund (1850)6

Besides these there are other collections not yet catalogued; some in private hands, e.g., those of Dr. M. Gaster of London, and of the late D. Kaufmann at Budapest, others in public libraries, as, for example, the Alliance Israélite Library. The fragments of the Cairo Genizah, numbering many thousands, and scattered in Cambridge, Oxford, London, and Paris, are not included. Many libraries, as the Bodleian and Bibliothèque Nationale, have received notable accessions since their catalogues were printed.

  • Steinschneider, Vorlesungen über die Kunde Hebräischer Handschriften, pp. 68-90.
Images of pages